Running Your Business Is Like Coaching a Soccer Team

Fans love a superstar. We love to watch them make incredible plays and score nearly impossible goals. The brilliance of a good coach is putting the right players in the right positions and creating a team system that uses each player’s strengths to achieve the best outcomes for the team.

Some players can play any position: they pass well, defend well, and have a big enough boot to score. But no one player can win a game alone; it takes a team. And it takes a good coach who knows where each player contributes best. Is the player with the big boot better as a midfielder, where he can make brilliant passes? Or is he better as a defender, where he can clear the ball? Is the player with the great touch a better striker or center-midfielder?

As a business owner, you have to spend enough time with each employee to know their strengths, their skills, and what motivates them. This is best done informally. Some owners call it “management by walking around.” Sitting in your office for eight hours a day may not help you get to know your employees. Rather, you have to be a part of the process.

Here’s how an informal visit might go:

OWNER: Hi, just thought I’d drop by. What are you busy with?
EMPLOYEE: Well, a couple of shipments are late, and I’m trying to find out why.
OWNER: Anything I can do to help?
EMPLOYEE: Oh, thank you. It’s just a matter of following up.
OWNER: Does that happen often?
EMPLOYEE: With some shippers.
OWNER: What do you think we can do about it?
EMPLOYEE: Oh, thanks for asking. I have a few ideas, but I didn’t want to bother you.
OWNER: Let’s talk; I’d love to hear your ideas.

As the conversation progresses, as an owner you can begin to see what this employee cares about. Maybe she is really good at analytics or has great people skills. Either way, you won’t know until you talk to her about how she goes about her day, what methods she uses to get things done, and what ideas she has for the future.

What’s most important is for you to create an atmosphere of trust. That means sometimes accepting that some employees know more about certain aspects of your business than you do. If you don’t give them a chance to express themselves, you may be missing out on growth opportunities.

Getting the right people in the right places is more of an art than a science. It requires a lot of time and encouragement. But people often do their best work when they are encouraged, not threatened. Some businesses even rotate employees regularly so they learn new skills, work in different teams, and stay productive. You never know when a star team will emerge.

And to keep employees motivated, you might keep score in some way. A simple scoreboard in the break room can make a big difference in productivity. Make sure you provide monthly or quarterly incentives—movie passes or a traveling trophy, just to encourage some friendly competition.

The best teams care about each other, and that starts with the leadership. When your employees know you care about them, they care more about each other. They are more willing to pitch in when an employee gets behind or cover a shift when somebody is sick. They work together as a team.